'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Guest Post: Hazel Edwards Behind the Scenes of 'Hippo Hippo the Musical'

Kids' Book Review is delighted to welcome Hazel Edwards to share some behind the scenes secrets and anecdotes from Hippo Hippo the Musical, the nationally touring Garry Ginivan production, inspired by the 36 year old picture book There’s a Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake illustrated by Deborah Niland.

As an author, how do you feel about your book There's a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake inspiring a musical?
Thrilled. It's surreal to watch actors sing, dance & play characters who were just in my head. But especially to have others acknowledge that Hippo is theirs.

Any unique moments 'behind the scenes'? 

  • Mummy-bloggers turned up with gift platter of pink hippo cupcakes. Photo taken with hippo but impossible for him to eat as his eyes look through the mouthpiece.
  • In the theatre bar, had a coffee with actor Andrew a.k.a. Hippo. Grinning he said, 'Would you like a cake with that?' He was not in costume.
  • In the National Theatre seat alongside me, my 6 year old grandson was inter-acting with a performance, based on a book inspired by his uncle and Mum, 38 years earlier. 
  • Bus-jam in Gippsland theatre carpark.' Bunyip Line' signage on country school bus. Another imaginary creature? Crocodile lines of excited students, clutching their jungle animal masks, going into the theatre.
  • Theatre truck has been driven through severe storms to ‘bump in’ Canberra, Sydney and South Australian performances. Drip Drip Drip seems apt.
  • Blackout! Lights out due to Upwey storm 20 minutes into the performance. Power failure so Hippo 'mingled' with thrilled children and also gave replacement tickets as power predicted not to return until 1am.
  • Importance of sound/music.  Children with disabilities have always loved the print reassurance of the big, colourful friend with the answers.  But in performance, the music was a cue that hippo was about to appear, and they picked it up intuitively and leaned forward to watch. ‘The hippo is coming now, that’s his music’ said one child. 
  • Some autistic children get frightened by sudden noises. There is a balloon popping and also the audience ‘roaring’ as jungle animals. Lots of clapping. But those with carers are often seated in easily accessible seats, so they can go out quickly, if upset. A couple did, but then returned.
  • Mother of 2 autistic boys said it was first book & theatre in which they were emotionally involved.
  • ‘3 minutes to curtain up! Better go to your seats,’ warned the minder to the long autographing queue. Families love to have photos taken with author, child and book. And authors love minders who write difficult to spell names like Phillicittee’ or  ‘Jaiyson’ ’ on yellow stickies in the front of the book.

  • Eamonn George, the 'Dad' actor, has a hard-to-spell name. During his hometown Ballarat performance, this mistake was noticed on the banner which audience often use for posed photos. Director Garry arranged a new banner, then cut out the wrongly spelled name from old version and spelled all the cast names wrongly and presented the 2nd fake banner to Eamonn's family as a collectors' item. 
  • Nostalgic, child-free adults bashful, but loved book from their youth.
  • Autographed a pre-loved 3 generational copy from 1980, with bath stains.
  • Used purple quill to autograph as 'vintage' book, then someone sat on it. Back to biro.
  • Each artist adds their own skills to the adaptation. I think in abstract, so the colourful set, quirky props like Hippo's yellow ladder and bright costumes, add another dimension. 
  • I love turning around to see which grownups (The MoanUps) take part by crouching down and leaping up. And the child audience participates too, via party animal masks and actions. So vital for this age group which has a short wriggle length. 
  • Seeing the props and costumes waiting behind the scenes is a new experience. And so is meeting your own characters, as actors in makeup and then the cast in their ordinary clothes later. Going backstage, disconcerting to see a hippo head carefully positioned on floor for fast change. Has a bike helmet inside for shape.
  • Woman in her fifties with a disability was being read the hippo story by her carer in the foyer before the performance She sat behind me and LOVED the performance and laughed in all the places 4 year olds found slapstick humour.
  • Pre-Loved:  I used a quill to autograph two of the first edition, hardback Hippo copies brought by three generational families who were still reading the book. 
  • Lyrics from the poignant farewell, arranged by Mark Jones and sung by Kaisha Durban
I know he is up there
Can you see him too?
I know he is up there
It’s crazy, but it’s oh so true
Silently and quietly
He sits up there alone
I know he is up there
Oh yes he’s up there
  • Maintaining the fantasy of the hippo character is challenging.
‘Is there a man in the suit?’
‘What do you think?’
Was unsure whether to take 6 year old backstage and destroy the illusion of fantasy.  So I didn’t.
  • Love the moments when children in audience respond by yelling ‘cake’. My favourite time is watching the excited, anticipatory  faces in the theatre foyer.
  • Audience is required to hide behind the seats and jump up for the surprise party.  Wonderful to see parents taking part and even grandparents with dodgy knees doing the ‘Hippo Boogie’ Allowed to just go through the motions.
  • Children ‘own’ the character.  Actor Dean Schultz who plays the brother has a mother for whom it was her favourite book, as a child.
  • At Pakenham’s Cardinia Theatre 1 am performance, well rugged children appeared out of the mist. Many were keen to see their hippo artwork which was featured in the foyer. Parents photographed that too.
  • Shared ‘Braille’ copy as autographing books in foyer. Children loved feeling the story.
  • Original publisher Margaret Hamilton and illustrator Deborah Niland attended the Sydney performance.
  • A few teary eyes amongst the adults when hippo leaves …
  • I met Director-writer Garry Ginivan at the Alexander Theatre at Monash University 35 years ago and he was always keen on producing Hippo.  I felt honoured, but the process took a while. Option signed 2 years ago.  Auditions in February 2016.  Then rehearsals. Has toured from May until August. And will return…

Hazel Edwards is an Australian author of both fiction and non-fiction books for children and adults. She has published more than 200 books including the recently released Hijabi Girl (co-authored with Ozge Alkan), but is perhaps best known for her picture book There's a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake, which was recently listed in Better Readings'  Top 50 Kids' Books for 2016. You can view a sneak peek of Hippo Hippo the Musical here and visit Hazel Edwards's website for more information about her books and author events.